The latest in a series of our spotlight on our fabulous Subject Matter Experts, we’re delighted to be talking all things cloud-based in the world of contact centers with Nathan Dring, our SME for our Contact Center Catalogue.
The contact center, in its truest form, has been around since the early ’50s and mid-’60s, and, with the introduction of Automatic Call Distributors (ACD), it enabled what we now know as our more ‘traditional’ call and contact center environments. Then, with this ability to direct large volumes of calls with specific routing options, the call center (now contact center) was born.
It’s continued to evolve as technology, digitization and SaaS (Sales as a Service) have been developed over the years. Today we have the capability to have an entire center built from the comfort of your armchair with more cloud-based contact centers starting to emerge.
But what are the real advantages of having a cloud-based service? Why is it important? What benefits can it give and is it right for your contact center…or is it just for the big players who have high volume capacity?
Here are some of the challenges:
- Managing call demand effectively
- Creating highly engaged and motivated employee
- Having flexible channels for customer communication
- Having a multiskilled agile workforce
- Managing multiple systems
- High operating costs through, equipment, office costs and people
This isn’t an exhaustive list but let’s explore how cloud-based services can help improve some of these challenges.
Managing call demand
Cloud-based services will in most cases include some intelligent routing software and cloud-based IVR technology, which gives the opportunity to manage calls before they even reach an agent. With the ability to ‘fuse’ directly into your CRM system with a clever Application Programme Interface (API) in the cloud, you can identify your customers whilst in the IVR and provide self-service options, so they don’t have to speak to an agent unnecessarily. This means you can focus your people where they are most needed, or even potentially cut costs with a reduced headcount.
If customers do go on to speak to your agents, then you’ve already established their identity and, in some respects, (if you have used natural language routing) you already have an idea of what they want to discuss. This can further reduce the average handling time in your contact center, which enables you to handle more calls and meet service levels better. In turn, this can have a positive impact on customer experience metrics such as NPS and customer satisfaction.
Creating highly engaged and motivated employee
We know that contact centers can suffer from high attrition, which has a direct impact on our ability to service our customers and also has a high recruitment cost, impact on training resource and a broader impact on staff morale. Having highly engaged and motivated staff can help resolve this and whilst traditionally sites may use sweets, chocolate, wine and donuts to help motivate this is only a short-term fix (and indeed, sometimes has a negative impact).
Gamification in the contact center, provided though cloud-based technology, is a growing business with more contact centers gamifying metrics such as handling time, customer feedback and productivity, and displaying this ‘real-time’ using APIs linked to CRM, customer feedback and telephony dashboards from hosted providers. This can (if done properly) motivate and inspire the workforce to be better, creating healthy competition, league tables and personal motivation for teams to compete. The visual displays available through wallboards can now replace the traditional whiteboard or A-frame and keep an emphasis on the customer.
Having flexible channels for customer communication
It used to be that the only way for a customer to contact you was to write to you or call you…usually with a complaint! Then, with the digital age, we evolved a little bit more with the introduction of email and whilst that helped speed up the process, it also created more demand for agents. New workflows and response times that needed to be managed.
Customers now have, using the cloud, a plethora of ways to engage with you, which can help reduce demand and increase First Contact Resolution (FCR), hence the shift to ‘CONTACT’ rather than ‘CALL’ center. Omni-channel communication platforms, using the cloud allow customers to interact with you in their chosen medium: SMS, call, email, webchat and now chatbots (automated pre-loaded and intuitive chat systems that can interface with your customers in an almost human level).
Having a multiskilled agile workforce
What are the benefits of so many flexible options for your customers to engage you on? Well firstly it allows your customer to decide how they want to engage…and if we get this journey right it turns customers into fans and advocates, who then become great brand ambassadors for your customer service! It also reduces the demand on how many agents you physically need available to service your customers demand through calls. Since webchat means agents can chat with multiple customers, (3-4 ideally) there can be significant gains in productivity.
What’s more, the cloud-based solutions make it very easy to change skill levels of agents from webchat to voice skills, giving you a flexibly blended workforce that meets the demands of your customers.
Managing multiple systems
Often ‘on premise’ solutions mean that the contact center needs a server in the building and a network to pass information back and forth. This can be slow and, in some cases, needs an overnight cycle to ‘refresh’. This is often expensive, and an in-house IT function is needed to help service all your systems. Add to this, there are multiple licenses to consider and expensive service contracts, not to mention that technology can quickly become outdated.
Cloud-based technology can be easily updated in the cloud with minimal or no interruption to your customer (or agent) experience and with most cloud-based solutions being totally configurable, they can plug into other cloud-based software as long as there are API links available. This means you can link all your systems together and allow them to talk to each other.
The benefits of this can be significant in terms of ease of application for your call center agents. Instead of waiting for long load times as the system loads the data, cloud-based solutions load quicker by accessing relevant data as and when it’s needed. This has a direct impact on your average handling time and with everything-under-one-roof navigation for your agents, it becomes an added by-product, which can save seconds if not minutes on transactions.
High operating costs through, equipment, office costs and people
Quite possibly one of the biggest advantages of cloud-based technology is the flexibility and ease of rollout. When the COVID pandemic hit, almost overnight (using cloud-based contact center technology) contact centers transformed to mostly remote working contact center teams.
Moving your contact center from an on-premise solution to a cloud-based solution has significant gains in how agile your workforce can be and how lean you can be with your operating costs. Working from home has almost become the ‘new norm’ thanks to cloud-based contact center solutions. This has transformed the landscape for the contact center industry with agents in some instances becoming more productive and more engaged as they develop a newfound work-life balance.
The upshot of all this is contact centers are looking at the size of the office they need and how many seats they require, which ultimately could save a significant amount on contact center operating expenses… money that can be reinvested into optimizing the customer experience even further.
So, in conclusion, the upside of contact center cloud-based solutions does inevitably mean that the traditional contact center could become a thing of the past. The traditional ACD contact center has evolved and even the smallest contact centers are embracing cloud-based solutions. As more providers pop up and new technology emerges, this will become more productive and cost-effective with each new enhancement that is pioneered…to better serve our customers.
About the author – Nathan Dring
Nathan is the SME for our Contact Center Catalogue. Having worked in L&OD for over a decade, Nathan has experience in sales, service, SME and retail. Whilst at Asda, Nathan led the learning and development function for the global contact center estate.
Nathan was Head of Global Organisational Development at thebigword, before setting up his own business, Nathan Dring and Associates Limited at the start of 2018.